tonight on "nightline," fatal flaw? accusations of gas tanks that can fail on impact, with fiery and fatal consequences. and now, demands by a safety organization for a massive recall. one american car maker denies there is a dangerous flaw. plus, extreme proms. blame it on "gossip girl." >> i own prom. >> some high school proms now look like the royal wedding and cost thousands. but do prom-goers always get what they pay for? we head out to the dance. and, filthy rich. he's part of a long-time ruling family accused of decades of corruption at home.
but when this foreign head of state visits america, he lives like a king. and tomorrow, the white house is romming out the red carpet for him. who is the united states calling a friend now? >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with terry moran, cynthia mcfadden, and bill weir in new york city, this is "nightline," june 8th, 2011. >> good evening. we begin tonight with auto safety. and one advocacy group's demand that the government begin a massive recall of certain older jeep grand cherokees. the possible recall could affect an estimated 2.2 million vehicles on the road today. the group says it has a tape that shows how the placement of the fuel tank in these vehicles makes the tank vulnerable in rear-end crashes. with potentially fatal results. here's lisa stark. >> reporter: february 2007, a
fiery crash on a new jersey highway. susan klein, wife and mother of two, killed, when her jeep was struck from behind and burst into flames. >> imagine somebody that you've been with that you loved dearly for 33 years being burned to death. it's just not a good picture. >> reporter: her husband tom, raising their kids on his own, spoke to abc station wtvd. >> i can't think of a worse situation. nothing can compare to this. >> reporter: susan klein is just one of at least 55 people who have died in fiery crashes involving 1993 to 2004 jeep grand cherokees, according to the center for auto safety. crashes with fire was, quote, the most harmful factor. >> a lot of other people out there who are driving these vehicles who are just as naive as i was. they are driving down the road and thinking it's a perfectly safe vehicle. >> reporter: according to safety
advocates, the danger lies in the position of the plastic fuel tank, behind the rear axle. >> if you put a tank in the rear behind the rear axle, you're going to have fires. >> reporter: and why is that? >> because there are all sorts of sharp objects in there, the lines can come off and what you have to do is prevent the gasoline from getting out of the tank. >> reporter: clarence, with the advocacy group the center for auto safety, says crash tests clearly show the risk. the tests were done for engineering students with the assistant of the federal highway administration. >> you see the car coming right in to the back of the jeep and the fuel tank is right behind -- >> reporter: and what is that? >> that's gasoline. >> reporter: that's the fuel spilling out? >> that's the fuel spilling out. >> reporter: erupting from the side is what he says is the fluid used to simulate gasoline in crash tests. and there was even a protective shield over this tank, which some models have. so, what happens when a care rer
ends one of these cars? what we've seen in many tragic cases is that the tank is moved forward, is crumpled and as the gasoline comes out, if there's any ignition source, a piece of rirn scraping the road, you're going to have a catastrophic fire. >> reporter: we asked chrysler about this test. they said the test was, quote, three times as severe as the government standard. the company added that the vehicle meets or exceeds federal standards. rear impacts rutting in fire are extremely rare, and occur no more often in '93 to 2004 jeep grand cherokee vehicles than in peer vehicles. the government now has a body count. why hasn't it recalled these vehicles, in your view? >> this's -- that's the $64 question. i mean -- the government goes through its procedure. it takes time, but while it's
taking time, these crashes are occurring and someone is going to die. >> reporter: the national highway traffic highway safety administration says it is actively investigating the vehicle and, in fact, witnessed the crash test. its own fatality reporting system con cups with the 55 deaths where fire was listed as the most harmful event in those crashes, but says they do not agree they were all related to rear impact. what is the remedy, though? >> well, unfortunately, there's nothing the average consumer can do. >> reporter: but if there is a recall, he says there is something chrysler can do. >> what chrysler can do is, they can put a steel shield in. they can put a good check valve into the fuel tank. >> reporter: starting in 2005, chrysler moved the fuel tank forward in grand cherokees. the company says that was to improve cargo space. but for tom klein, nothing will bring back his wife, susan. >> the whole accident, and what
happened, and how it happened, and the result of what happened is just horrific. >> reporter: for "nightline," i'm lisa stark in washington. >> we will continue to track this story. just ahead, some high school earls and their parents are spending thousands for a dream prom night. but what happens if it all goes wrong? depression is a serious medical condition.
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months planning for the big night, to say nothing of thousands and thousands of dollars on gowns and limos. is the new high gloss prom really any more fun? here's andrea canning. >> reporter: it's a right of passage for teens across america. the senior prom. here in new jersey, a preparty for 27 couples kicks off the festivities. >> four years and it's finally senior prom, like, the end of the year. we're all together. it's going to be fun. >> i can't wait. going to be crazy. >> having these memories and all the pictures we can look back on. >> reporter: everyone was primped and posing with their dates, making memories they'll never forget. until well the best laid plans often go awry. >> i got 54 kids here dressed up. we need to get to prom. >> reporter: the party bus didn't show up to take them to the prom. >> ruining my day and everyone's starting to fight, everyone is
starting to get mad. >> reporter: a class of seniors now stranded, who spent the whole year dreaming about the biggest moment of their high school life. a night so important -- >> let's start with these and then, you know -- >> reporter: the preparations now begin in the fall. eight months before prom. so, you have girls thinking about their prom dress in october? >> this year, october 12th, we sold our first dress and that was for a june 5th prom do y. >> reporter: and the dresses this year are worthy of miss america. >> i want this one. >> reporter: we just recently sold this to a prom girl. she actually came if from ohio, drove here, wanted something over the top and she said, i want to look like it was dipped in glue and rolled in glitter. >> reporter: how much is this? >> it's $6,000. >> reporter: row. i can barely left this dress. this is like a workout right here. >> yes. >> this is it. >> reporter: today, prom is more competition than celebration,
with girls taking a cue from shows like "the gossip girl." >> this is my moment. i own prom. >> reporter: how important is this part of it, the hair, the makeup? >> it's probably more important than the actual prom. just the prom is just the dance. >> reporter: sammy has spent $200 on hair and makeup. $60 on hair extensions. and $45 on her nails. with her look almost complete, she headed home to get into the $1,600 dress she's been waiting to wear for months. >> it's strapless, it has silver beading and it's sea foam colored and it's, like a corset top and flows out at the bottom. >> reporter: how much has been spent for sammy on prom this year, from the clothes to the party? >> oh, my gosh. the clothes -- i could say, $3,000. and, you know what, look, i can choke saying that, but at the same time, you know what, for me, it makes me so happy that,
you know, it's money well spent. >> reporter: i know you were concerned of sammy coming off looking spoiled. >> i think all her friends are very lucky to have grown up with very fine things in their lives. and they all feel very fortunate and they all feel very lucky. >> i like this one. >> reporter: to end up on the best dressed list, young girls we spoke to say some teens are going to extremes. >> almost everyone goes tanning, like, they started going tanning in january to make sure their tan looked like it was the middle of summer. >> and going to the gym, like, months before, me and my friends are always at the gym. >> girls are eating salads all the time. >> reporter: what is driving this need to have the most amazing fashion and the most amazing hair? where are this coming from? >> you constantly see it on tv. it's just protected into our lives and we want to be that celebrity for one day. >> reporter: and that pressure increasingly including shrinking dresses and plunging necklines.
how sexy are the dresses becoming? >> very. >> reporter: some dresses can be made of just mesh and only covering the bare minimum they can, and see through dresses and cuts all over. >> reporter: after months of anticipation, sammy was ready to reveal the dress she's been waiting to show her date. her friends loved her gown and the night was perfect. almost. sammy's parents hosted the perfect pre-prom gathering but part of the elegant plan was that $10,000 party bus we can't show you, because it never showed up to the pre-party. >> if you want to go on the bus and be an hour and a half late or if you want to drive. >> reporter: this is the big night, you wanted it to be perfect -- >> you know what, i just don't understand people's professionalism. my daughter is crying, her friends are crying. prom started ten minutes ago. >> reporter: some of the kids refuse to let anything ruin their night. >> i'm still going to go to
prom, i'm going to have fun. >> reporter: everyone squished into cars -- >> i love you. >> reporter: and sammy still rode to prom in a chariot, it just happened to be her dad's bentley. and despite it all, the prom was the special night they had all hoped it would be. >> we don't care about the bus anymore. >> reporter: complete with a story they'll never forget. for "nightline," i'm andrea canning in new jersey. ♪ ♪ [ male announcer ] and just like that, it's here. a new chance for all of us: people, companies, communities to face the challenges yesterday left behind and the ones tomorrow will bring. prudential. bring your challenges.
rivera to beverly hills. tonight, brian ross investigates. >> reporter: cynthia, the u.s. has been rightly criticized for cozying up to corrupt, often brutal foreign leaders like hosni mubarak of egypt. but tomorrow, the white house has invited for a coveted oval office meeting, the president of gabon, who somehow has managed to become incredibly rich during his family's four decades of rule. with luxury homes from california to the rivera, an actual palace at home, the long-time ruling family of the african nation of gabon has never known the poverty that grips their fellow countrymen. >> i need something really big. really, really, really big. >> reporter: members of the bongo family have long been in the market for some of the world's most expensive real estate, like this $25 million home, which caught the eye of one of the bongo's daughters-in-law, on a shopping spree with vh1 cameras along.
would expect a bit more grand your. >> reporter: the beach house wasn't big enough. so, she went to see this mansion in beverly hills, where the bongo family already owned at least three other huge estates. her bid of $25 million was not accepted. >> i tried to down size. it's just not in my character. >> reporter: money was apparently no object for inga, who at the time, 2006, was married to the man who was the defense secretary of gabon, ali bongo. but two years ago, ali bongo was elected president himself, succeeding his father. and now presides over not only gabon but a family empire, estimated to be worth monhundre of millions of dollars. allegedly the results of decades of corruption. >> there's absolutely no shame. >> reporter: following a criminal complaint filed by a human rights group, authorities in france found the bongo family had more than 30 luxury homes there, including this estate and now this $120 million 14-bedroom
town house in paris. >> the people running the country are guilty of grand theft nation. >> reporter: it's all a stark contrast to how most people live in gabon. a country about the size of colorado, where some families still are forced to pick through the garbage to eat, despite huge oil revenues, a third of the population lives on $2 a day. the u.s. says there have been some major reform efforts under the new president bongo. but according to the u.s. state department's most recent report, gabon is still a place of widespread government corruption, marked by the use of excessive force by police. even taking pictures of the bongo's many palaces is against the law. but we did it anyway. president bongo refused repeated requests from abc news for an interview, so we could ask him about the allegations of corruption. one of his top aides said no news organization would ask such questions. and he accused us of conducts a
smear against the president. in this country, people can go to prison for that. that's what happened to mark, a polio victim, who is one of the few people in gabon to publicly criticize the bongo family's continued rule and was briefly sent to prison for it by bongo's father. he told us he had to evade secret police to meet with us late at night in a hotel. the new president, ali bongo, says that he's different from his father. >> i don't think he's different from his father. >> reporter: he's not different? it's worse now? >> yes, yeah. >> reporter: the corruption is worse now? >> yeah. >> reporter: president bongo has used his money to travel the world in style and makes lots of important friends. last year, he rented an entire museum to throw a party in his honor. >> thank you for coming. >> reporter: where he was praised by rudolph giuliani for his work in protecting the african environment and wildlife. >> president ali bongo. >> reporter: bongo's entourage
stayed at one of new york's most expensive low items, with celebrities including comedian chris tucker. >> i've been to gabon twice. loved it. >> reporter: but when abc news dropped by for a visit, with a few questions, we received a very different welcome. thursday, president bongo will be at the white house, a visit officials justify as appropriate because of his support for the u.s. at the u.n., where gabon is on the supreme court council. and they say because of new reform efforts he is making. >> i'm appalled. the meeting is ill conceived, ill timed. shouldn't be happening. >> reporter: his spokesman says president bongo is a reformer who is fighting corruption. but he offered no explanation to us how he and his family have been able to amass such a great fortune, cynthia. >> thanks, brian. we'll be following the outcome of that meeting tomorrow. that is our report for tonight. thank you wa